Category Archives: Geneva

Plan Ahead: Shop “Small Business Saturday” in a Local Downtown


Next Saturday, after all of the crazy Black Friday shopping is over, there is a call to arms to head downtown.  (Not “The Downtown” as in the o.b.v.i.o.u.s.l.y. cool phrase for downtown Chicago to make it sound like it is the only downtown you know.)  Not THAT downtown, but head to your local Main-Street-USA downtown and support a local business owner.

Support your neighbor.

You may not have been in a small American downtown in a while, and if not, you don’t know what you’re missing.  You might only shop at Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Nordstrom’s, Kohls…or Walgreens.  (It’s probably best not to tell your beloved that you got their gift at Walgreens though.)

So this Saturday, pick a downtown.  Local if you can, but if you are visiting relatives, go to their downtown. Find a new downtown.  Head West, young man!   Jump on the UP-W and shop Oak Park or River Forest, Elmhurst, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, West Chicago, or Geneva.  Meet the owner and thank them for being there before they thank you for the business.  And support them with your hard earned cash; don’t just eat the free food they’re serving.  We would never want our downtowns to be ghost towns.   They are the best slice of Americana there is.

And if you really want a hometown experience, head south 1 hour over the Mason Dixon Line in Illinois (Interstate 80) to Morris. (Take your passport if you feel the need.) Morris has a fabulous downtown.  Make a day of it.  Have lunch, shop, have dinner and stay for one of the live bands that the bars or restaurants schedule on any given weekend. …55 South to 80 West, you can’t miss it.  Scroll down to see just a few (ok, more than a few) of the shops in this great little town.

American Express is even helping you out with a $25 advance to spend locally.  You just have to “like” them on Facebook and pledge to shop small and they will gift your card.

Now get out there and do your civic duty!  Get out of your Big Box Store rut!  No need to “Occupy Anything”.   Black Friday sounds like drudgery, but Small Business Saturday sounds like fun and you don’t even have to go at 3am.   Plan ahead…  shop small, but BUY BIG, and maybe you will find that for the rest of the year you will choose to support these stores, too.

Count the number of times I used the word “downtown” and you could be a winner.  I said “you could”, but probably not. There is actually nothing to win.


Death by Cocoa Bean


If you’ve gotta go, I can’t think of a more pleasant way.  I decided to “take one for the team” and register for a dessert class.  The Cocoa Bean in Geneva was referred to me by my friend, Julie, who reveres their cakes.  Each year on her birthday her sister gives her a whole cake to enjoy all by herself.  No sharing required, unless she wants to.  She does not want a new bag of the season, not a piece of jewelry, not a trip to Vegas, not even a dinner out at a five star restaurant.  She wants a cake.  A whole cake and nothing but the cake.  On second thought, I don’t want to speak for her.  I am sure she would never turn down any of those other aforementioned things, (ahem…Kyle), but this cake must be gooood.

So after hearing this, I knew I had to check it out.  While reading the website I noticed on Sunday afternoons they offer classes, so I jumped on the UP-W line and headed west to Geneva.  It is a little walk when arriving, but Geneva is so beautiful that it is not a sacrifice….and I was going to a dessert class, for heaven’s sake, I could stand to burn a few before and after.  Best surprise of the day…another French Market at the train station!  More on that in the Spring, since this was the last one of the season.

Could this weather be better? I think not. And neither did the gazillion other people enjoying 3rd Street in Geneva.  This street alone could keep this blog going indefinitely.  So many people were out and about loving the weather and the shops and restaurants.

Our class started at 12:00 in the working kitchen of the bakery. For a person like me, that was a great place to be sitting.  Surrounded by ovens, a marble slab counter, small, medium and giant mixers, and every whisk, spatula and gadget imaginable.

We dove right in with a pumpkin mousse and sponge cake roulade.

Think: dessert rolled like a giant Hostess Ho Ho. (I loved peeling and eating those when I was young…I would still love peeling and eating those if it wasn’t culinarily incorrect, which is like politically incorrect only referring to bad stuff we can no longer openly buy in a grocery store and put into our bodies without guilt…shame…and transfats…WHAT? There are no transfats in Ho Ho’s???…putting that on the grocery list for next time.)

This homemade Ho Ho was made with vanilla cake with pumpkin mousse cream filling.  Pastry Chef Paul (owner) made it two ways; layered with a chocolate ganache and also layered with raspberry. Obviously, this was the raspberry.  Dessert #1 in the stomach….this could get crazy.

Next, he made a simple pumpkin bar with homemade cream cheese frosting. Simple and common, but the techniques we learned were very helpful.  How to prevent bubbles, or dense cake, or ugly cutting.

 Dessert #2 in the stomach… Starting to worry.

Next on the list, a pecan torte in a chocolate crust.  I had to stop.  I just could not make myself take a bite of another dessert.  No matter how much the people around me raved…I had to stop.  But you don’t think I just skipped it, do you?  They said at the beginning they would give us boxes to take things home…I am always planning ahead.

Lastly, he made crème brulee in a roasted pumpkin shell.  The presentation was gorgeous, daarling.  Love learning the tricks of the trade.  Roasting the pumpkins with cinnamon and sugar, learning about real vanilla, when to use tempering, and hot water baths.  (Not with bubbles and lavender, silly, as a cooking method.)

The class was informative and filling…need to go run a 5K.   (I should have run the Hot Chocolate 5K in Chicago yesterday, but that might have defeated the purpose since there was hot chocolate,  chocolate fountains and fondue after.)

We were all sent home with boxes of goodies.  This was in the box.  Can you imagine making these thin layers??  There were croissants and pastries from the storefront, samples of what we saw Chef Paul make, a pumpkin with crème brulee, and a serious sugar high.   That won’t deter me from going again, though.  I am much tougher than that.

Their website has the schedule for the rest of the holiday season.  Mark this in your calendar for a must do, just make sure to eat lots of vegetables a for few days before.  It’s all in the training.

The Little Traveler


I remember my mom taking me to the Little Traveler in Geneva in the 70’s when I was young.  And she remembers her mom taking her to the Little Traveler in the 50’s when she was young.  She described how they would get dressed up and go for tiny sandwiches and tea in the Atrium with her Aunt Laura.  They would shop throughout the store and throughout Geneva.  It was a big excursion.  Remember these were the days when there was no huge indoor shopping malls so you had to go from store to store outside!

My mom would take us to do the same.  Like the Brady Bunch, there were six kids in our family.  I remember sometimes I got to go alone, and sometimes we would take “the little kids”. Our family was separated into the big kids (Greg, Marcia, and Peter) and the little kids (Jan, Bobby and Cindy).  No Alice.  No second marriage.  And my dad was not an architect.  He was a farmer.

Stay with me now… Rod and Greg (Greg and Peter)  usually stayed home to hang around on the farm and to avoid shopping torture, but my mom would take me with “the little kids” …Marcie, Andy, and Monica (Jan, Bobby, and Cindy).

I vividly remember a time though, when we brought “Peter”, uhem…I mean Greg, with to buy dress pants.  Weird how memories go.  Shopping in The Junior Gentlemen.  I just remember going in and out, in and out of store after store looking for the perfect pants.  I wonder if he was picky??   I wonder if it was the pricing…I wonder if they were plaid…or if it was sidewalk sales?  I KNOW one thing, we were not shopping for me.

But one of the fondest memories was the Atrium Cafe.  I remember sitting inside, but feeling like it was a garden. There were fountains gurgling and warm light from the sun coming in, …very small tables, very small chairs and very small sandwiches.  We must all have been very small people back then.  We probably had a tuna salad, egg salad, or ham salad cut into triangles….remember when people made ham salad??? Does anyone out there still make ham salad? I am sure I had peanut butter and jelly.

So on this train trip, I asked “Carol”, I mean Mom, to go with me for some remembering.  There is a lot of history surrounding this home.  

It has been enlarged many times and the rooms are interesting in that there are different levels in the doorways from all of the additions.  It got its retail start back in the 20’s.  Here is a link so you can read all about it:

We started off with 8 minutes to go until the train arrived.  The woman in the station was so confused as to why we would be headed west…she actually said, “You can’t go that way.”  I think she just doesn’t have that many people buy a ticket to Geneva and that don’t buy a ticket to the city (Chicago).  We had to try to persuade her in under 8 minutes to let us buy a ticket.

After that confusion we were lucky enough to have had the most informative conductor on the train.  We asked if he could explain some of the best ways to buy tickets for short trips and give us some of the tricks of the trade.   He sat down and introduced us to the “rules of the tracks”.  If you are lucky enough to ride this line, hopefully you will meet Mitchell.

After landing in Geneva, we walked one block to the Little Traveler.  It was just as we remembered…EXACTLY the same, in fact.

We shopped, talked and ate at the Atrium Cafe.  

Our waiter, who had worked there since 1988, was eager to tell us about the changes in shopping habits and diners in the last 20 years.  He said he loved his job.  So far …2 for 3 on the helpful-informative-people chart.

We met many people that asked if we were mother and daughter and if we had been there before.  It seems like it must be a place that people revisit for nostalgia’s sake.

After a few purchases, (just enough that we made sure we could still limp back to the train) we decided to brave the heat and set out for more of Third Street.  The more things change, the more they stay the same…We remembered some of the old buildings and stores and found some great new ones. We had gelato at Graham’s Coffeehouse and ran into an old “young” friend by the name of Cheryl.

There are soooo many amazing-looking restaurants and shops that I will definitely be taking many more trips to Geneva.  If you haven’t been there, you should.  And if you have been to the Little Traveler before, but it has been a while, you should take a day to go back with your mom, aunt, sister or friend.   Maybe you will find that the memories will come rushing back, too.